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Perseid meteor shower peaks tonight: Tips on how to see it

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The Perseid meteor shower peaks tonight and you don't want to miss it.

The Perseid meteor shower is usually one of the most prolific meteor showers of the year, with an estimated peak of 30 to 40 meteors zooming across the sky per hour.

This year, however, observers should expect a slightly less spectacular show, as the lingering effects of Sunday evening's super bright, supermoon will drown out some of the fainter meteors.

"What the moon is doing is lighting up the whole sky, it's like nature's own light pollution," said Alan MacRobert, of Sky and Telescope magazine. "It will reduce the number of faint meteors you can see, but you can still see the bright ones."

He added that committed meteor watchers could still see an average of one meteor every five minutes tonight, so it's certainly worth trying!

The Perseid meteor shower occurs each year as the Earth passes through a stream of ancient bits of dust and ice left in the wake of comet Swift-Tuttle. As the Earth goes barreling through the stream, small pieces of comet detritus slam into our planet and burn up in our atmosphere, causing what looks like shooting stars to streak across the sky.

Swift-Tuttle is in a 133-year orbit around the sun, and the people of Earth have been enjoying this late summer light show for at least 2,000 years. According to NASA, the shooting stars we can expect to see tonight could be caused by dust that has been hanging out in space for as long as 1,000 years. 

The best time to see the show is after 11 p.m. time, when the constellation Perseus is high in the sky. If you are willing to wait until 3 a.m. that's even better, but not essential. 

Grab a blanket or a reclining lawn chair and get yourself to a big, wide open view of the sky. You'll want to face away from the moon, because its bright glare will mess up your night vision. Also, try to stop yourself from looking at your cell phone. You want to let your eyes get used to the dark with no bright light interruptions. Then, lay back and relax and with a little luck, you should enjoy a beautiful natural light show.

For those of you who prefer to do their sky gazing on the computer (or if you just can't get outside at the shower's peak), NASA will live stream a view of the meteor shower from the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. The agency is also hosting a live chat with a team of meteor experts.

Happy sky watching!

Sky watchers, follow me @DeborahNetburn and "like" Los Angeles Times Science & Health on Facebook.


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